Hacksaw Blades Free U.S. Mercenaries From Brazilian Prison
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Three American mercenaries who used hacksaw blades to escape from Brazilian prison where they had been held on gun-smuggling charges were home Friday after a harrowing flight across South America.
″If we hadn’t had hope, we never would have made it,″ said Timothy Carmody, who is now turning his attention to freeing four colleagues still jailed in Brasilia, Brazil.
Carmody, 39, who was interviewed by telephone from his home in San Francisco, joined Sheldon Ainsworth of Virginia Beach, Va., and Steven Hedrick of St. Petersburg, Fla., on a flight from La Paz, Bolivia, to Miami on Thursday.
A fourth man - Fred Verduin of Sonoma, Calif. - escaped with the others on Dec. 15 and is safe, although he did not return to the United States immediately, Carmody said.
Relatives of two of the four Americans left in jail said that since the escape the remaining prisoners have been denied privileges and have had their mail and telephone calls monitored closely.
″I’m very, very worried,″ said Marion Foti, mother of Robert Edward Foti, 37. ″We talked to the State Department but they have not helped in any way. We have gotten no help at all,″ said Mrs. Foti, of Scotia, N.Y.
Betty Sosa of Fayetteville, N.C., wife of Steven Sosa, 57, another of the jailed Americans, has been ″ very depressed″ since the escape.
The men, all Vietnam veterans, were arrested March 14 aboard a Panamanian- reg istered tug loaded with machine guns, grenades, inflatable rafts and other military hardware.
The seagoing vessel was loaded with weapons in Argentina and was headed across the Atlantic Ocean to the West African nation of Ghana where the men were told they were to help in a mission to overthrow the government of Jerry Rawlings. One of the three says he is convinced the project had U.S. government backing - either from the CIA or the National Security Council.
But the plan when awry when the ship’s captain refused to go through with the trip and returned to Brazil where the men were arrested at a port town 20 miles east of Rio de Janeiro.
They were charged and convicted of smuggling arms into Brazil, but the convictions were overturned by an appeals court last October. The men remained in jail facing extradiction to Argentina on charges of violating export laws.
The mercenaries said they are convinced they were recruited for an official U.S. government operation to overthrow the government of Ghana, which has strained ties with Washington.
Carmody said he is convinced the operation, for which he was paid $5,000, had the backing of the CIA or the National Security Council. He said the man who recruited him lives in Texas.
The plan, Carmody said, was for the Americans to train a force of 100 Ghanaian rebels, apparently on board a freighter after picking them up in the Ivory Coast, Ghana’s neighbor. The invasion then would be launched in rubber boats from the ship.
The CIA has denied any involvement in the operation, and the State Department says the men were operating at free agents. Pete Martinez, a State Department spokesman, said Friday he had no information on the men.
Carmody, a graduate student and bartender before he went to South America, said the four escapees used hacksaw blades that had been smuggled into the prison in boxes of powdered milk sent by his wife, Melody.
″We worked like beavers,″ he said, describing the operation to saw through a metal grate above a shower. The men fled the day after a general strike.
Those who stayed behind considered the plan too risky, Carmody said.
At 10:30 on the night of Dec. 15, they shimmied down sheets tied together and walked past several prison guards. Once at a main road, they hailed a taxi, paying for it with money hidden inside a cigarette pack.
The escape plan had been worked out for months by his brother, Carmody said. To help elude detection, the men shaved their beards and cut their hair.
Still, Carmody said they were scared because Brazilian television broadcast their pictures every evening. ″We stayed in out-of-the-way places,″ he said, adding they got by with a road map and a Portuguese phrase book.
After traveling by taxi and bush-plane for a week, the men reached Corumba, a Brazilian town about 700 miles southwest of Brasilia, and crossed the border into Bolivia.
Two Americans besides Sosa and Foti remained in jail, John Dee Early of Florida and Julio Rodriguez-Larrazazal of Fayetteville, N.C. Early’s hometown was not available.